Reclaiming the Breast- Support

For those Mother’s who have chosen to breastfeed, making information available on support is invaluable. Sheffield, particularly has a great deal of support available if you know where to look. Making this information easier to get both from road shows and poster campaigns could be very useful.

As making is my passion, it was a case of deciding which craft to use as appropriate.

Most midwives and health professionals dealing with breastfeeding use knitted breasts to illustrate positioning and attachment of babies –could this craft language be extended?

The old lady knitting a breast is as far away from titillation as you can get.

The old lady knitting a breast is as far away from titillation as you can get.

With the help of my mother, I knitted thirty breasts to be used as teaching aids like the ones knitting nannas make. They also make a fun display for feeding rooms/ breastfeeding pop-up displays.

Using CNC routed plywood I created a moveable wall with castors for the breasts to be displayed, with space for information to be stuck on the back using specially made magnets.

'Wall of Boobs'

‘Wall of Boobs’

The knitted boobs were made using vaguely skin coloured yarns, to attempt to represent the human form. The majority were made to illustrate Caucasian skin but a few more were of various shades to represent black and Asian tones. The shades were probably representative of the population but also it must be pointed out that, culturally, white English women are least likely to breastfeed. Black and Asian women have feeding much more culturally entrenched, with support from family members making this normal and easier to achieve.

I have seen many of the grannies’ knitted boobs that health visitors etc carry around with them in bright blues and greens due to using up any spare wool they had. I did consider using this technique but preferred skin tones as it kept them life like enough to be viewed as body parts.


The pattern for the knitted boobs can be passed around, either for ladies to add to the wall of boobs, to create their own wall of boobs at children’s centres, or to donate for training purposes to hospitals.

These need to be housed in some kind of moveable structure, to both entice people close, and to create a space for quietly feeding and receiving information and support.

Nawal El-Amrani, the infant feeding co-ordinator for Sheffield council, cares passionately about getting women the right kind of information to encourage the upkeep of breastfeeding. She is responsible for disseminating all information to health visitors, midwives and peer support workers about correct breastfeeding techniques.

Incidentally, the language used was very important, I was told by Nawal that my use of the word ‘advice’ was not appropriate, as this can suggest the midwives’ ability to solve the mother’s feeding problems rather than guiding them to solutions.

What better way to grab people’s attention than by a giant breast? Initially I thought making a fabric boob stretched over a framework could do this.

Prototype for giant fabric breast

Prototype for giant fabric breast

This idea progressed into the concept of being able to get inside the breast, hence the ‘titty tepee’. Although the model looked pretty cool, the shape and colours were not realistic and striking enough for it to be recognised as a breast from far away.

titty teepee

titty teepee

I developed a design for a collapsible tent, more like a dome tent that could be made and transported to various venues, including parks and festivals. This was definitely more identifiable as a breast, and would be big enough to fit at least five or six people comfortably. The size meant that this could be used to house a support worker along with some comfortable chairs for feeding in good weather, but also for the information displays and such, during bad weather.

Model of tent design

Model of tent design

tent top 1

After working out costs and metres of fabric needed, it became clear that the prohibiting factor was not the cost, but the size of the structure. When dismantled it would be huge, as this, like the wall of boobs, would be CNC routed plywood.

The shape needs to remain the same, but the framework would be much better made from fibreglass tent poles like a traditional dome tent.

As mentioned, I would like to use this tent to travel to parks, festivals and shopping centres, where there may be mothers with problems with feeding. They may like help, or desire privacy. This also could be taken to sites to pre-empt potential parent’s worries regarding breastfeeding- for instance having a pop-up information point in places where there is a high incidence of teenage pregnancy.

I had grand ideas about other possible permanent structures being used for spreading imagery of breasts as non-sexual objects.

I would love to see the cement dome in Heeley with a painted nipple; seen from Google Earth it would look rather fun and incongruent.

Instead of having a permanent coat of paint on, it could be wrapped a la Christo. This could be extended to any dome like structure, although I may have trouble persuading the Imam that the Wolsey Road Mosque would look good with it.

Serious research needs to be done into how something as overt as a nipple shaped tent would be treated by the target audiences. Would it be something that would be an alluring sight, bringing people towards it out of curiosity, or would it be a repellent to the more shy or self-conscious?

Although I have had positive feedback on the design from Nawal El-Amrani, I am unsure how the younger women would feel about it.

All this knitting inspired me to make a more accurate model of breasts. These breasts carried by health professionals are essentially teaching aids, so it seemed appropriate to make an anatomical model of the breast.

Knitted anatomical model of breast

Knitted anatomical model of breast

An understanding of how the breast is constructed could help to reduce the chances of developing or alleviating mastitis. For this to be successful, it needed to be anatomically accurate. Amazingly, it was only recently that the make up and function of the breast was studied in depth. The constituents of breasts were wrongly illustrated, as they had not been studied properly. Unicef now uses an illustration wildly different from that taught in medical circles even five years ago. (See appendix 8) As a consequence, I have had to adjust my knitted model, as I based it on images found on the Internet that were not up to date with current thinking.

This model, due to its size, it designed to be used in a permanent clinical setting, explaining to mothers how the milk is formed and stored, as well as to show how, where and why problems including mastitis may occur.

Talking to Nawal from the council was useful in many ways. It introduced me to a new level of bureaucracy that she encounters frequently with the council, and also the strict guidelines about information dissemination imposed through the Unicef Baby Friendly Initiative.

Nawal is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about what she does, but is restricted massively by budgetary and bureaucratic restraints.

So as to ensure a coherent and continuous level of care, all feeding information must be the same. Unicef officially does not encourage the use of nipple shields, breast pumps or other methods, which anecdotally have helped mothers through difficulties with feeding.

Although these methods work for many women, they are not encouraged and therefore should not be mentioned in printed or web materials for women. This is very much the same with formula milk. Gaining information about correct formula feeding is incredibly hard work, if going through the official channels.

One Comment on “Reclaiming the Breast- Support”

  1. jennifer says:

    Any chance you have the pattern for the anatomical breast? I wanted to make it for lactation students. Thx

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